Houston (Shady Characters) reminds readers of the joy of reading print in this history of the book, lovingly crafted and embellished with arcane anecdotes. Chapters are arranged by the parts of a book: page, ink, pen, type, illustrations, and the binding that brings it all together. Houston begins with the creation of writing, moving to the search for something to write on. He explores papyrus, parchment, and paper in their many forms, along with the need to find inks that suit each one. Houston challenges popular misconceptions—“if Gutenberg is to be credited with anything it must be that he made work”—and offers anecdotes of particularly thrilling moments in the book’s development, such as the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library, where the earliest complete codices known were found. Houston appreciates words, too. He derives the origin of the word syllabus, for instance, and explains the differences between illuminated and illustrated manuscripts. Technical discussions of the printing press, lithography, and binding are enlivened by stories of their creators’ missteps. Houston’s fixation with this object is a delight, and his understanding of how history is written and his clear delineation between speculation and established fact are very refreshing. Agent: Laurie Abkemeier, DeFiore & Company. (Aug.)
"This witty and mischievous tome traces the evolution from papyrus to paperback in 448 pages. It’s an optimistic ode to one of mankind’s greatest inventions, which continues to thrive even against the onslaught of e-readers."
"A lovingly designed and illustrated deep history of the book."
New York Times - John Williams
"If you love books, love the feel of a book in your hands, the heft and smell, the swish of a turned page and the satisfying thump of the cover and you must or you wouldn't be reading this have I got the book for you. . . . The bookiest of books. . . . Houston. . . writes with zest. He's an enthusiast if not an obsessive, with a voracious appetite for details, from the daily grind in a medieval scriptorium to the intricate workings of a modern offset press. . . .
The Book is nothing if not user-friendly."
Dallas Morning News - Bill Marvel
"Invitingly tactile. . . . Sure to delight book lovers of all stripes with its lush, full-color illustrations, THE BOOK gives us the momentous and surprising history behind humanity’s most important—and universal—information technology."
"Keith Houston's deft history of the object wraps entire civilizations into the telling, propelling us through the evolution of writing, printing, binding and illustration with gusto."
"Mr. Houston savors evocative detail. . . . As befits its subject,
The Book is pleasingly designed—with an offbeat self-consciousness about its sturdy appearance—and Mr. Houston’s unapologetic nerdiness is matched by a jaunty style. . . . Mr. Houston is an eager, affable guide, and his detailed history is a welcome reminder that this ‘unrepentantly analog contraption’ is one of the truly great pieces of technology."
Wall Street Journal - Henry Hitchings
"We bibliomaniacs have a soulmate in Keith Houston . . . riveting."
Scottish Review of Books - Alan Taylor
"Splendidly comprehensive and tactile."
The Herald - Russell Leadbetter
"Savor this deeply researched love letter to every bibliophiles favorite thing . . . a scholarly and light-hearted review of everything you want to know on the origins of the written language, the media upon which it is captured, and its methods of illustration, reproduction, and distribution."
Washington Independent Review of Books - Jennifer Bort Yacovissi
"[A] masterful and overwhelmingly entertaining volume, both an homage to the book and one itself to be cherished by readers everywhere."
The Boston Globe - Clea Simon
"Everybody who has ever read a book will benefit from the way Keith Houston explores the most powerful object of our time. And everybody who has read it will agree that reports of the book’s death have been greatly exaggerated."
"A love letter to the physical book, this is a fascinating and erudite telling of how it came into being. . . . Hugely enlightening."
The Yorkshire Post - Tory Lyne-Pirkis
From discussing papyrus to perfect binding, Houston (Shady Characters) takes readers on an exploration of the origins and evolution of the book. What could have been a dry and straightforward history is instead a fascinating story enriched with descriptions of technical innovation, the curious experiments of printers and entrepreneurs, and a close examination of how the language, art, and science of bookmaking has developed (and in some cases remained the same) over centuries. Along the way, the author illustrates the progress of particular printing techniques and design conventions and reveals that the tale of moveable type goes far beyond Johannes Gutenberg's inventions in the 15th century. Houston delves into the bookmaking societies of ancient Egypt, China, and the Roman Empire, and shows how those styles of the craft have left a lasting impression on the culture of reading and writing today. Pulling together aspects of archaeology, history, literature, and biography, the author reveals the facts, conjecture, and educated guesses experts have made about how and when the first modern tome came to be, which is surprisingly difficult to pin down. VERDICT This engaging volume should satisfy a wide cross-section of book lovers, history buffs, and those interested in the dynamic relationship among language, the written word, and human ingenuity.—Rebecca Brody, Westfield State Univ., MA
From barely decipherable scratches on ancient surfaces to the latest bestseller: a history of the book, its numerous ancestors, and its underlying technologies.Houston, who has written a history of punctuation (Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks, 2013), returns with a text that is erudite, playful, and illuminating. His massive research informs his discussion—research he has absorbed so well that it seems to flow effortlessly from his pen. Accompanied by many useful illustrations, the text approaches the subject in several ways: the author recounts the history of the writing surfaces and implements humanity has used (from papyrus to paper, reed to keyboard), rehearses the evolution of illustrations in texts (from illuminated manuscripts to our contemporary mass-produced pages), and describes the advance from the scroll to the codex. In each of these major sections, Houston is both witty and intensely detailed, thus appealing both to general readers and to bibliophiles who will wish to know the specifics of making papyrus, of stitching together pages, and of learning how we arrived at today's paper sizes. Humor appears almost always in the punny, allusive chapter titles—e.g., "Etching a Sketch: Copperplate Printing and the Renaissance." The author calls out onto his stage numerous principals in his play—names not widely known—and gives them their due, among them Flemish scribe Colard Mansion (the first to use engraved copper plates in the late 15th century) and Martial, a Roman poet, whose first-century (C.E.) volume is the first known use of the codex. Houston also continually refers to the published version of the book he is writing, pointing out its similarities to others, ancient and contemporary. And we sometimes have to "unlearn" things we thought we knew—e.g., Gutenberg's first book was not the Bible but rather a grammar text. A splendid, challenging mixture of information and fun.